Digital Scorecard | Chanel’s Unsharable Masterpiece

PARIS, France Yesterday, Chanel launched its long awaited Chanel No.5 short film Train de Nuit, featuring Audrey Tautou, who is no stranger to the storied French couture brand. Often compared to Mademoiselle Chanel herself, Tautou has now twice taken on the role of the famous coutourière, most recently in Coco Avant Chanel, a film exploring her early life and times.

Within seconds of seeing the opening shot of the 2 minute short film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who previously worked with Tautou on the award-winning film Amélie, the viewer is struck by Tautou’s alluring presence, as she rushes to catch the Orient Express which takes her from 1955 Paris to modern-day Istanbul in mere seconds. This is the Internet after all, so things have to happen quickly before patience wears thin and viewers click away.

On board this luxurious mahogany express train, Tautou’s fragrance catches the attention of a fellow passenger, played by American actor Travis Davenport, who becomes hopelessly addicted to our heroine, laying the foundation for a tale of intertwining destinies, woven by the threads of chance and fate.

There is no dialogue at all throughout the film and the story is conveyed entirely through the actors’ powerful body language and the soulful voice of Billie Holiday. In doing so, the film successfully captures the beauty and sophistication of Coco Chanel’s essence while delicately conveying the power of scent in seduction, almost as if it were wafting straight off the screen. This film is the strongest proof yet that luxury brands can achieve a whole new level of storytelling on the Internet, leaving two-dimensional magazine advertisements in the dust.

The production quality is remarkably good and perhaps more importantly, the film is watchable, over and over again, because new details can be picked up with each viewing. There is also a 60 second version of the film available and a full behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and the story of the legendary perfume itself.

But this is where things start to go awry. It pains us to say that this beautiful film, and all the supplementary materials, are available only on the Chanel site and any initiative to virally propagate the film is thwarted by the lack of an embed function. Indeed, a legal disclaimer warns that

“No part of this website may be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed in any way for commercial purposes. This prohibition also includes framing any content from this site on another site, as well as unauthorized linking…use of material from this site without CHANEL’s prior written consent is strictly prohibited.”

Unauthorized linking? You’ve got to be kidding. In the digital age, such restrictions not only seem antiquated and old-school, but they also reflect a lack of understanding of the open world of the Facebook-addicted, always-Twittering, YouTube-loving internet faithful who want to share and discuss and celebrate things they love.

While the quality of such sites would not replicate what is available on the Chanel homepage, when weighed against the potential loss of millions of views (see Susan Boyle), this seems like the wrong trade-off to make. Chanel will only reach a fraction of its potential audience with this film due to the restrictions. Why bother creating such a great brand development tool if you aren’t willing to share it?

Viewers clearly want to share the film, and thanks to the advances in video-ripping technology, certain seeders have already started propagating bootlegged versions of the film drastically varying in quality, which is even worse for the brand and completely ruins the experience of watching the film, which could have been released in HD on YouTube by Chanel itself. We managed to find an excellent version of the film anyway. It seems that some luxury brands think they can control content on the Internet.

Not only this, Chanel still refuses to sell Chanel No.5 (or any other Chanel product) on its website, meaning that millions of dollars of potential sales are being sent elsewhereand this, at a time when the internet is the only channel for sales growth in the luxury sector.

We give full marks to Chanel on the concept and creation of this stunning film, but can’t help but feel frustrated with the fact that this is an unsharable masterpiece. In the end, fashion film is not just about the story, it’s also about an execution strategy that enables the story to be told far and wide.

Title: Train de Nuit by Chanel, 2009
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring: Audrey Tautou and Travis Davenport
J&A Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5